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Exp Neurol. 2003 Dec;184(2):705-14.

Diffuse perineuronal nets and modified pyramidal cells immunoreactive for glutamate and the GABA(A) receptor alpha1 subunit form a unique entity in rat cerebral cortex.

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Paul Flechsig Institute for Brain Research, University of Leipzig, D-04109 Leipzig, Germany.


Perineuronal nets (PNs) consisting of polyanionic chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPG) and other extracellular matrix components create an exceptional microenvironment around certain types of neurons. In rat neocortex, three types of PNs can be distinguished after staining with Wisteria floribunda agglutinin (WFA) by their different morphological structure: lattice-like PNs associated with subpopulations of nonpyramidal neurons, weakly labeled PNs showing a pyramidal morphology, and diffuse PNs that possess a thick, strongly labeled matrix sheath located mainly in layer VIb above the white matter. The type of neuron surrounded by diffuse nets has not been described so far. This study is focused on the cytochemical and morphological characteristics of neurons associated with diffusely contoured PNs in rat parietal cortex using immunocytochemical staining, intracellular injection, and retrograde tracing methods. Cells surrounded by diffuse PNs were glutamate-immunoreactive in contrast to nonpyramidal, net-associated neurons that showed immunoreactivity for GABA, the calcium-binding protein parvalbumin and the potassium channel subunit Kv3.1b. Both groups of PN-ensheathed cells were mostly immunoreactive for the GABA(A) receptor alpha1 subunit. Lucifer Yellow-injected neurons surrounded by diffuse PNs displayed the morphological properties of modified pyramidal cells with intracortical main axons. Many neurons with diffuse PNs were retrogradely labeled over a long distance after Fluoro-Gold tracer injection in the parietal cortex, but remained unlabeled after intrathalamic injection. We conclude that neurons associated with diffuse PNs are a subpopulation of glutamatergic modified pyramidal cells that could act as excitatory long-range intracortically projecting neurons.

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